A PR Professional’s Guide to a Successful Hospitality Event

Posted by SheaDavis on January 15, 2016


I remember the worst event I ever attended like it was yesterday.

It all came down to one simple mistake: The organizers had an attendant with a clipboard stand by the bar. As the bartender poured, the man tallied — he was counting the drinks! What started out as a (very) transparent attempt to ensure a good ROI turned into a full-blown catastrophe in a matter of minutes. Guests were mortified, believing that the clipboard-wielding gentleman was there to keep track of their drinking habits. A lavish event bombed, all because someone wanted to know how busy the taps were.

Although this event wasn’t in the hospitality sector, it carries an important message: Not just anyone can host a great event. Luckily, hospitality providers have a leg up on other industries. After all, ensuring guests have a great time is their bread and butter. But to ensure you keep your audience truly happy and make your event one for the books, follow these five steps:

1. Identify your aim. When you hold an event, you incur several costs along the way. What do you hope to accomplish by spending this money and manpower? You must be honest and strategic about your objectives so you don’t put time and effort into something that doesn’t further your goals.

If you have trouble coming up with goals, look around the industry to see the kinds of events others are putting on. What are the organizers gaining from these events, and what strategies are they employing to achieve their goals?

2. Don’t stuff the guest list. Once you identify your objective, narrow it down and decide who your audience should be. You must gear your planning toward pleasing a certain group of people, and if you only have a general audience in mind, your event will fall short of your expectations.

If your audience is high-class, don’t go cheap on little things like table decorations. Match the plan to the people. Create your guest list with purpose, and remember that the amount of bodies in the room doesn’t necessarily determine the impact of the event.

3. Pre-plan — then, plan some more. Hammer out all the details of your event on multiple occasions with multiple people so nothing slips by you. Have you worked with these vendors before? When will you be able to tie up your loose ends?

We once worked with a client who was dead-set on having his event on a particular weekend in February. When we started meeting, however, we realized he was asking us to plan an event for Super Bowl weekend. Because we did our due diligence, we identified the problem and talked him into a different date before planning too far ahead for an event that could have been a no-show disaster.

4. Get the best team involved. Each event requires the expertise of many people. If someone isn’t involved in the planning who should be (or someone who should attend isn’t present), you might overlook something critical or give your client the wrong impression.

For instance, if you plan the grand opening of a major property, you want all of your top executives present to show your client the importance of the event. The head of marketing, the head of sales, your top catering expert, etc., should all be present to demonstrate your commitment to this event’s success and to help you to respond to any incidents that may arise.

5. Keep the engagement coming. After the event, don’t retreat into your bubble and try to figure out how to make the next one better by yourself. Reach out to the client’s key leaders, and ask them what they liked about the event, what they thought worked well, and, most importantly, what they didn’t like. Gather feedback from regular attendees and your ground-level employees as well to get the full picture of how your event went and whether you could improve in certain areas next time.

One of our best events was for Hilton Hotels and Resorts as part its Hilton Huanying program, which means “welcome” in Chinese. The Chinese New Year event was held in Washington, D.C. We invited the top tour operators because many Chinese tourists at that time used them when traveling abroad. We also invited Chinese government officials in the area, along with the people in the state department who worked with those officials. At the event, we brought in Chinese language media, allowed the hotel staff to show off their Chinese culinary skills, and ordered an authentic Chinese dragon for the traditional dragon dance.

We invited the right people, planned rigorously, and even sent photos to some of the most important guests afterward to open the door for further communication. The lines of communication established at the event provided an opportunity to improve our business as a whole.

People expect more from hospitality events, and it’s up to you to meet that expectation. The best providers plan for everything, respond well to chaos, and continue audience engagement well after the event to make next time even better. Follow these steps to make sure your next event not only creates lasting memories, but also furthers your business objectives and builds the foundation for events to come.

Shea Davis is a senior vice president at Mitchell with a focus on brand reputation for hospitality and travel industries. For more from Shea, click here.

Topics: Hospitality, brand reputation